There’s a place that you fall into at the tail end of a series of power intervals – the kind that puts you in a severe oxygen deficit – or, as I also discovered a few days ago, in the last three minutes of a 20 minute TT.
It comes after the nausea sets in [that’s at around 12:36], and you’re already aching. By which I mean, everything hurts. You know it, you can feel it, but the worst part is that your brain keeps ranting and raving about it. It starts off a high-pitched wail [like Tony Soprano’s mother when she got outraged] that you can push aside temporarily. You can sort of fight it, and beat it down with willpower because you’ve been there before and you still pulled through. Then it changes. The shrieking to stop becomes more of a seductive whisper. “But you’re perfect just the way you are,” it might say, “You don’t need to be doing this. I’ll give you a rich, gooey, calorie-free brownie spoon-fed to you by Bernie Eisel/Adam Hansen/[insert favorite hot cyclist du jour here] if you just……..stop….”
It sounds so easy, because by minute 17:00, motivation has abandoned you faster than Nike dropped Lance. People might tell you that under the laws of physics, anything in motion likes to stay that way. Indulge in a 20 minute self-flagellation on the bike and you’ll realize that those people are actually wrong. There is nothing easier than stopping the pedals when you are in that dark, special place. There’s actually nothing you’ll want more. [And don't get me started on how absurd the principle of relativity seems when you're counting down seconds in a TT.]
shit my heartrate hits the fan, I’ve tried different tactics, like telling myself I liked the burn – “I AM TOTALLY ENJOYING THIS!” – that the pain felt good. This can work on long climbs done at a “let’s just get over this without killing ourselves” kind of pace, and partners into BDSM. It’s harder to do when ceasing the extremely painful activity in question is entirely within your control.
It is, however, one of life’s wonderful mysteries that you don’t consciously go into the red [unless we're talking about debt]. It doesn’t even happen in degrees, really. You hurt, near an edge, then all of a sudden you’re at a place where conscious thought becomes detrimental to survival. I guess you can say it gets worse, but you can really only tell in hindsight.
When my brain flickered back on a few seconds after the 20 minute mark, I felt like absolute shit. The pressure that had been pooling at my right temple drained, leaving behind a weird, woozy throbbing. I couldn’t remember a thing that happened in the last two minutes of that TT.
People have an obnoxious way of telling me that nothing easy is worth doing. Usually this happens when life has essentially stomped on my throat, when the primary objective in life becomes curling up in a ball while eating brownies and Googling pictures of Bernie Eisel and/or Adam Hansen, not hearing that this is the way life is/more suffering is required but it will all, probably, be worth it in the end. I always temporarily hate those people out of a selfish need to wallow in my self-pity. Like they couldn’t give me a second to weep/stuff my face/fantasize about hot pros before powerslamming me with their advice, which is also conveniently structured for a follow-up “I told you so.” It’s an even harder pill to swallow because it requires faith. Sometimes in the economy, but mostly in myself; and that can be scary. It is much easier – and safer – to believe what others have told me is true: that my legs will always be slow, and that I deserve to be on the receiving end of phrases like, “well, my friends and I usually do that ride faster.”
It makes for a lot of bitter, hoarded rage. The weirdly demotivating thing is that no amount of that anger could get me past the 17 minute mark. With 180 seconds left to go, there’s no room for even a sliver of doubt; it’s you vs. you, and at that point you just have to choose.
Can you do it, or not?
I dug in, hung on, and held some faith in me.
It totally made my week.